WALLINGFORD, Pa. — In a title-holding field of 42 amateur club champions, it was Philadelphia Cricket Club’s John Brennan that played as the truest champion of them all. Brennan fired a 3-under round of 67 at The Springhaven Club (par 70, 6,374 yards) to become the first Cricketeer to win a Tournament of Champions title.
“I told my wife that I may never get a chance to play again in the [Tournament of Champions], so I had to get out here today,” said Brennan, who is a high school social studies teacher by trade. “With so many great players at Philly Cricket, I’m not sure if I would have ever got another chance. It’s a big deal to win a club championship at Cricket, so the fact that I won [the TOC] makes it mean that much more to me.”
From the get go, Brennan was on a hunt for the hardware. His front nine of 3 under set the stage for his championship run, and hosted three birdies with zero bogey blemishes.
But once the Audubon, Pa. resident found himself sitting comfortably at five under thanks to an eagle on No. 12, trouble struck Brennan’s game out of left field. He went on to bogey holes No. 14-16. Brennan’s lead had vanished in the blink of an eye.
“Even though I felt like I didn’t hit a bad shot all day, that was a bad stretch,” said Brennan, 36. “Chet [Walsh] and Mike [Korcuba], my playing partners, were there for me. They started telling me, ‘You got this.’”
Brennan, knowing he had to turn it around sooner rather than later heading to the 17th tee, bounced back in pure championship fashion.
“I told myself that my driver was feeling good. I hit it about 60 yards out from the green on 17, then hit a wedge to three feet of the pin, made the [birdie] putt,” Brennan said. “That really got me going.”
Another champion-like par save came on No. 18 (par 4, 370 yards) when Brennan escaped left tree trouble off the tee. He wavered on his approach club, but ultimately made the right call with a low punch shot that found its way safely to the front of the green. His two putt gave him a one-stroke victory over Green Valley Country Club’s Ben Feld, along with the Amateur Flight title.
“This honestly just feels great, especially with the lifelong exemption and all,” Brennan said. “Any time you have a chance to put your name on a GAP trophy, it’s wonderful. It’s a great way to end another great year.”
Senior Flight Joseph Russo of Laurel Creek Country Club took the Senior Flight with a strong statement, firing a day-low round of five-under 65. He topped a field of 36 Seniors who played The Springhaven Club as a par-70, 5,905 yard track.
Russo finished his beginning nine at a respectable 1 under, but his game really caught fire after making the championship turn. Three birdies, coming on Nos. 11 (par 4, 402 yards), 13 (par 3, 182 yards), and 16 (par 3, 97 yards), fell thanks to Russo’s flatstick feeling at home on greens that were rolling in excess of 12.
A jarred wedge for eagle, however, on No. 12 (par 5, 495 yards) ultimately cemented Russo’s spot atop the Senior Flight.
It’s been a year of ups and downs for Russo, who, back in August, three putted the final hole of a U.S. Senior Amateur Qualifier at White Manor Country Club to miss the qualifying playoff. Russo, a resident of Washington Township, N.J., said he had to take a few weeks off from playing after that disheartening finish.
“I was so disgusted. I put a lot of time in to get where I could qualify for that, and I thought I should have,” said the 58 year old. “It was discouraging to say the least.”
Putting that disappointment in the past got a little easier for Russo on Tuesday, as he ended his 2015 season on the highest note possible. He is, after all, a champion of Champions.
“This feels good,” Russo said of his Senior title. “Even if this wasn’t the last tournament of the year, I still always look forward to playing in the GAP events. You always play on great golf courses against great players.”
Ed Chylinski of Chester Valley Golf Club took home the Super-Senior title with a 8-over 78. It was the first year of the Tournament of Champions that players 65 and older competed in a Super-Senior Flight.
Open to current Member Club amateur champions, senior amateur champions,super-senior amateur champions and previous winners, the Tournament of Champions began in 1962 in memory of Larry Malmed. The Golf Association of Philadelphia accepted the event in 1984 after Al Porter, the tournament’s coordinator, was forced to retire because of an illness. A Senior Division was added in 1992.
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